Reagan ignored warnings of attack that killed 241 soldiers


    A former defense secretary for Ronald Reagan says he implored the
    president to put Marines serving in Beirut in a safer position before
    terrorists attacked them in 1983, killing 241 servicemen.

    “I was
    not persuasive enough to persuade the president that the Marines were
    there on an impossible mission,” Caspar Weinberger says in an oral
    history project capturing the views of former Reagan administration
    officials.

    Recollections of an initial 25 Reagan aides were
    released this week by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the
    University of Virginia. Altogether, scholars interviewed 45 Cabinet
    members, White House staffers and campaign advisers in a project begun
    in 2001, when Reagan was secluded with advanced stages of Alzheimer’s
    disease. Reagan died in June 2004 at the age of 93.

    Transcripts
    offer largely admiring portraits by Reagan’s chief loyalists and
    Weinberger is no exception, crediting the president with restoring U.S.
    power and outfoxing the Soviet Union.

    But he said one of his
    greatest regrets was in failing to overcome the arguments that
    “‘Marines don’t cut and run,’ and ‘We can’t leave because we’re there'”
    before the devastating suicide attack on the lightly armed force.

    “They
    had no mission but to sit at the airport, which is just like sitting in
    a bull’s-eye,” Weinberger said. “I begged the president at least to
    pull them back and put them back on their transports as a more
    defensible position.”

    On another dark corner of Reagan’s
    presidency, the Iran-Contra affair, former Secretary of State George
    Shultz said Reagan was so moved by meeting the families of U.S.
    hostages that officials feared the encounters would cloud his judgment,
    and began keeping the families at bay.

    “The president, it just
    drove him crazy that there were these hostages in Lebanon,” Shultz said
    in his December 2002 interview. Consequently, the “cockeyed dream” took
    hold of secretly selling arms to Iranians in return for their leverage
    in freeing the captives.

    Weinberger, who often clashed with
    Shultz on foreign policy, agreed that Reagan’s “idea of trying to get
    the hostages back overweighed almost everything” and arose from meeting
    the families. “Those meetings destroyed him, absolutely,” he said.

    Weinberger
    said Reagan discovered that his description of the Soviet Union as an
    “evil empire” twice got lopped out of drafts of his soon-to-be famous
    1983 speech. “The third time he didn’t put it in the draft, but he gave
    the speech with that phrase,” Weinberger said.

    “And you could hear this gasp from the conventional-wisdom people virtually all over the world.”

    James
    Kuhn, Reagan’s second-term executive assistant, credited Nancy Reagan
    with much of her husband’s success but said she was hard to please. He
    described her as a first lady who “could ask questions that there were
    no answers to.”

    For example, she would demand details of the
    weather in whatever place the Reagans were going. “And she’d say:
    ‘Rain. Why is it raining? Why is it raining in Cleveland?'” Kuhn
    related.

    “I’d say, ‘Well, I guess there’s a low pressure system that came in.’

    “‘Well, why?’

    “I’d think, ‘Oh God, I’m getting in deeper here.'”

    ___

    On the Net:

    Ronald Reagan oral history: http://www.millercenter.org/programs/poh/reagan/

    © 2006 The Associated Press